Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Getting it done.

I recently read an introduction to The Man in the High Castle about the author, Philip K. Dick (the book is low-key creepy, I highly recommend it). He was a prolific writer, author of 44 published books and 121 short stories in just thirty years. From his work we get movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. He only lived to age 53. I was impressed with his body of work, and the dedication it must have taken to get all that done. Talk about discipline!

When I posted about him on Instagram, several people (mostly fellow artists and writers) commented with questions, such as: but did he have to raise a family, what did his wife think, and sure but at what price? 

Yes, there was definitely a darker side to his life: he was married and divorced five times, and had three children with three different women. He abused amphetamines to keep his energy up. He struggled with paranoia and attempted suicide. And what ended his life so early? A stroke. So despite the great library of his work we get to enjoy today, his was a difficult life. But there is still something to learn from him, his single minded approach to getting the work done. He made it his priority before anything else. 

Believe it or not, I'm not a very goal oriented person. I can pick a word for the year and then try to align my life to that word, but sitting down and making focused goals has never (yet) worked for me. Nothing about my life has forced me to set and accomplish big goals. We move a lot (18 times between five countries in 21 years). Our plans are destroyed a lot (thinking we'll be somewhere for five years and then finding out we have less than a month to move internationally after just a year). Things change quickly, so I have to stay light on my feet, ready to pivot quickly when required. I'm good at that. Picking something and sticking with it an entire year, no matter what obstacles come my way? Not easy. I'm sure at the end of this year I'll be writing a long, introspective piece about how I did it and what I learned. But as we end of the first half of 2018, let me tell you what has worked so far (and no, it doesn't involve amphetamines). 

1. Writing comes first. 

I have a reasonable daily word count I need to hit Monday through Thursday, and then I take Friday (plus any time that pops up on the weekend) to edit. Life has a way of quickly pulling my focus if I let it. So I don't let it. In the number one most shocking turn of events in my marriage, I've become the early to bed, early to rise member of our partnership. I set my alarm, I get up, I drink coffee and maybe eat something, and then I go straight into my office and write. Generally while still in my pajamas. Sometimes I'm in there writing before my husband has even left for work. I never thought mornings would be my most productive time. I'm a lifelong night owl and insomniac. I've never been a morning person. But when I was leaving that daily word count to the very end of the day once everyone else was in bed, it was way too easy to come up with excuses. And good ones! Some days are rotten and awful and I have a major headache by 7:00 p.m. Or I have a lot on my mind and can't focus. Or some important exam comes up for the kids and I need to drill them on test concepts. Or, or, or... When I make writing the very first thing I do each day, there's no time for any of that to happen. And when I have an appointment on my calendar for the day? I get up even earlier and get it done before I leave. And even if nothing else in my day goes right, starting it off having completed my daily goal makes everything else feel like something I can handle. I don't want to be the master of good excuses, I want to be the master of my time. At least until I get that daily word count out of the way. After that, if I want to be a lazy bum and just curl up on the couch with the dog and read, I can do it guilt free! But funny story about that... an unintended consequence of getting my writing done first thing has made me less prone to lazy days reading on the couch. I'm already up and productive, so why not get other stuff done while I'm at it? Some days I hit a magical workflow where my fingers are on fire and the words won't stop. So I don't stop, even if I hit that word count. I don't think it's a coincidence how that magical workflow visits me quite a bit more frequently now. 

2. Accountability. 

This one is rough. In Shanghai I had a lovely little 'accountability group chat' where each day a few fellow creatives and I would chime in with our goals for the day and then cheer each other on. When we met our goals, we'd comment back in the group chat. It was awesome because even though we were all doing different things in different mediums with different goals, we still had someone out there who knew what we were doing. When you run a race with someone much faster than you, you may end up with your best time. Knowing someone else was creating along side me kept me on task and motivated, even though they were across town. I don't have anything like that here in Hong Kong. Yet. And the members of my little group have all moved off to different time zones around the world, so it doesn't serve the same function. So right now I'm doing a couple of things. First, I write down what I accomplish each day. It's nice to see the days and weeks and months accumulating thousands of words. That's how books are written, one word at a time. Second, I tell my husband. Generally I send him a text when I've completed my writing for the day, and he always sends me back a high five or thumbs up emoji plus some cheerful words of affirmation. I had a daily download of Shanghai Disneyland's construction progress from him for the four years leading up to the Grand Opening, so I don't feel bad for burdening him with a quick text. And third, for one week I posted my daily word count in my Instagram stories. This ended up being wildly popular with the people who saw it, and really great for positive feedback for me (especially on the day it took over five hours to get to my minimum word count and I shared how hard it was). I'm hoping still to find some sort of accountability group/partner, but I'm not allowing it to be a barrier for getting the work done (again, I don't want to be the master of good excuses).

3. More than one project.

I have a good friend named David who has been a creative mentor for well over a decade. I've worked with him on a multitude of projects big and small in a couple of countries. His wife is an author of four books, one of which was a National Book Award finalist (in addition to being a working mom of three). They are an amazingly creative family. I think David has pushed me further and harder creatively than anyone else in my life, most of the time unintentionally. He also writes, and a few years ago I was trying to decide what to do with a book I'd been pouring hours and hours into writing for a couple of years. I was losing enthusiasm for it, but hated to just walk away from it. While I was figuring out what to do, to continue or to abandon it, I was completely frozen. I wasn't writing anything at all. For months. He gave me one of the most useful tips ever... to always have more than one project going at a time. I'm pretty much an all-or-nothing girl, pouring myself fully into one thing at a time, but what he said made so much sense. Especially because of my tendency to go ALL IN on something and then burn out on it. There are plenty of days when the task of writing my Really Big Project is stalling. Not exactly writer's block, more like there is so much to write about I can't focus or concentrate and so I sit there staring at the computer, unsure what to do. So I have two other projects I can work on as well. One is a fun passion project I have no specific plan in mind for. The other is this blog. Right now I don't have any major projects with deadlines, so I can just cruise between these three depending on how I'm feeling. I've never once missed getting my daily writing goal completed while using this tactic. I feel it's made me far more productive than my old style of just working on one project until it's done before moving on to another, especially because working on something else makes me look forward to getting back to my Really Big Project, like meeting up with a good friend I haven't seen in awhile.

4. The Why

Remember, my focus for this entire year is Discipline. What I want that to look like is being so well conditioned to write every single day, no matter the obstacles, that churning out 1,500 words in one sitting becomes something I can do as a warm up instead of a cross-the-finish-line, gasping-for-air goal. Next year my focus will change and I'll have more audacious things to focus on (i.e. what to do with all the words I'm churning out). But the definition of a writer is quite simple: one who writes. Spending my time daydreaming about new publishing contracts, talking about the process, or reading about other people's writing process doesn't make me a writer any more than reading cookbooks, following foodie blogs, and wandering the grocery store makes me a chef. I do of course want the publishing contracts and the income streams and the opportunity to talk about my process, but I don't want those to be the sole focus. I gotta do the work and get to a point where I can successfully do both. And with my all-or-nothing, ALL IN tendencies, I'm not ready to do both just yet. But soon I will be. This year is a gift, and I will squeeze every bit of experience, learning, and best practices I can from it before adding in more. I would love to be like Philip K. Dick and leave a legacy of 44 published books and a hundred stories that have so many great films made from them. But I also love experiencing this amazing life all over the globe, raising both of my boys to adulthood, and staying married to the same guy for 22 years this week. I don't know that I can have it all. I don't know that anyone really can. But I can take the essence of Mr. Dick's single minded productivity and choose to spend the same 24 hours we all get focused on what is most important to me. Without much effort at all, I've seen the other unimportant stuff I used to waste time on quietly slipping out of my life. Pardon me for not throwing it all a farewell party... I've got to get back to writing, so I'm ready to give my focus to my youngest son when he comes home from school to tell me about the Business exam he's currently sitting while we make dinner together.

What about you? Do you have any tried and true ways to accomplish what you most want to do? I definitely want to hear about them! And if not, what is stopping you from going after it today?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Theft hurts

Sad news today. My dear Shanghai Disney friends (let's face it, they're family) Adam and Jan Ostegard just lost a lifetime of irreplaceable original artwork along with almost everything else they own.

Adam is a Disney artist, who I hung out with frequently in Shanghai and text nearly on a daily basis now that he's in America. He's been in Los Angeles over the last year, and he and his wife were just getting ready to do a cross country move to Florida to start a new job there.

They'd finished packing up their U-Haul truck for the day with almost every single thing they owned and then went to bed, ready to get an early start after just putting a few more items in truck in the morning. That night, someone stole the whole truck from the street in front of their house. They live on a tiny, dead end street where two cars cannot pass at the same time, and there is zero through traffic, so the thieves knew what they were doing and specifically targeted their truck.

The truck was found abandoned by the police, the thieves had gone through each and every box and taken all Adam's 22 years of artwork for Disney, Universal, and others. They left behind a few family photos (thankfully) and even some high value non-art goods, which seems they had a specific goal in mind and knew what they were going to get when they took that truck. 

If you own anything at all from Shanghai Disneyland's Grand Opening, chances are Adam designed it. And if you collect Disney memorabilia and suddenly find a bunch of artwork or collectibles created by Adam Ostegard on the market, including the piece below, chances are it was stolen. Please reach out so we can do something about it. 

But in the meantime, can I ask for you to donate a small (or large) amount of money to help Adam and Jan? They lost nearly everything, not just the irreplaceable original art... I'm talking furniture and personal goods as well. 

I'm so angry about this. My husband and I were at Hong Kong Disneyland when we got the text from Adam saying what had happened. I shed some horrified tears and then looked around at the park we were standing in... everything around us had a Disney artist's fingerprints on it, in the DNA. Disney brings joy to thousands of people every day around the world. Let's bring some joy to a person who has been directly responsible for being part of that joy. Please share this, especially if you're part of any Disney groups. There are images of his stolen work in the Go Fund Me link. 

*Updated to add: If you come across any of Adam's suspected stolen art or collectibles for sale online or at a show, please send a link or other information directly to Adam at 

Thank you friends.

Sketching live for Shanghai Disneyland's first Pin Trading Fun Day.

Shanghai Disneyland's first Pin Trading Fun Day, where we all came out to support Adam who was creating art for the thousands of Disney guests who came to see him and his work.

Adam's last birthday, when my friends Jacob, Hollie, and I went to our closest Disney theme parks (Shanghai Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Hong Kong Disneyland) to take a photo with a character to send to Adam who was at the original Disneyland with his wife, Jan. Adam and Jan are wonderful people. Please share the Go Fund Me link!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Typhoon Season is here!

Last night my husband and I went for groceries and were greeted with this sign, taped to our building's lobby windows:

So here we are, officially in Typhoon Season 2018 for Hong Kong! Granted, a T1 is nothing to be worked up over (it's kind of a standby signal), but less than a year ago when we had just moved into this flat, we got a T8 and a T10 (the highest rating) in the same week. Our home on the 16th floor flooded (windows don't like rain that blows horizontally for hours on end) repeatedly while my husband was on a business trip in America. It was frightening in a way this girl who grew up in earthquake-prone California has never been frightened! When I see the yellow sign with a number, any number, boxed in red, that week of very wet, scary hell comes rushing back to my mind and I just want to curl in a ball somewhere very dry and cool without any wind or shaking buildings. 

The current storm heading our way is expected to slow down and fade away rather than intensify, so we're good for now. But don't you love the way the storm kind of did a little twirl there? Maybe it was doing the Hokey Pokey and it turned itself about... The name of this storm is Ewiniar, which sounds like it would be right at home in a JRR Tolkien novel. It actually comes from the name of a storm god from the island state of Chuuk in Micronesia. While the storms in America go in alphabetical order and swap from traditionally boy to girl names, the storms in Asia go in alphabetical order of the countries who submitted them, and they aren't even all names... some are ideas or things, like flowers or trees. 

We have a great app called My Observatory that tracks the Hong Kong weather for us and sends us alerts for everything you can think of, including fire danger, cold warnings, heavy rain, and yes - typhoons. The alerts at this exact moment are many... The first line with the green symbols and arrow, with the blue waves below is a special announcement for flooding. We got three inches of rain in an hour, and its causing flash flooding in certain parts of the New Territories (the area of Hong Kong attached to Mainland China). The yellow Thunderstorm warning is important, as there are many lightning strikes in Hong Kong, and when this warning is in place, swimming pools are closed and outdoor activities are cancelled. The Amber Rain warning is indicating that we are getting a certain amount of rapid rainfall, which in turn can cause flooding. The T1 is the Typhoon warning level. The second row starts with the storm tracking map (see the photo above for what that looks like when you click on it). The triangle with the exclamation point is any current warning, which right now was an alert to be on the lookout for flash flooding. And finally the TV is a link to any current news stories featuring the storm. 

It also gives helpful info like the current temperature, the forecast high and low temps, the wind speed and direction, and the relative humidity (currently at 96%). If you have the notifications turned on, it will send alerts when anything changes. 

But you know what else this means? It's the start of the season when Lucy Rocket is perpetually terrified. While fireworks and firecrackers do not concern her at all, thunder makes her whimper and cry, running all over the house, panting and shaking. Two nights ago we had thunder and lightning all night long, from midnight until 7:30 a.m. She woke everyone in the house up to share in her great discomfort. Michael and I took shifts sleeping and caring for her, and I shockingly had the very first morning of 2018 where I slept in past 7:00 a.m. because I was so completely exhausted. It's like having a newborn baby all over again. But a very mobile one who will not be calmed until the thunder stops. 

This is her this afternoon, trying to climb inside of me while giant booming thunder crashes around us. Yeah, I'm wearing Christmas jammies in June at 2:00 p.m. I work from home which makes this quite the perk! Hilariously, when I finally took my shower a bit later, she clawed at the shower door until I let her in. And then she stood there, attached to my ankles, water and shampoo and soap cascading down on her (sorry, no pic of that). This is a dog who absolutely hates baths and water (she is unaware that Poodles are a water breed, that their very name means Puddle...), so that gives you an idea of how much the thunder frightens her. Oooh boy, it's gonna be a long summer with this precious scaredy cat of a dog! 

Hope wherever you are today is dry and warm, not blazing hot and humid. Unless that's your thing... and if it is, may I cordially invite you to Hong Kong for the summer? Maybe you can dog sit while we go somewhere cooler? 

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